Racing: Laurels belong to Sir Percy on Champions' Day

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The Independent Online

Though few seem willing to acknowledge as much, its portentous billing as "Champions' Day" derives ample substance from the appearance of Sir Percy at Newmarket this afternoon. His achievements since winning the Darley Dewhurst Stakes here 12 months ago have done much to maintain the card's lustre and narrative. Yet whether because of his humble origins, or the desperate margin of his success in the Derby, and his disappearance since, this colt is overdue recognition for his vintage quality.

Only one horse has ever finished in front of him - and that was one of the mighty milers of recent years, George Washington - and he has met exacting, old-fashioned criteria by winning Group One races at two and three, from seven furlongs to 12. True, he has been elusive, racing just half a dozen times in all. But his owners are keeping him in training, having already been improbably rewarded for their decision not to cash in their 16,000 guinea investment last winter - something that seemed culpably romantic at the time. And because his CV concentrates quality rather than quantity, he still remains capable of further progress.

No Derby winner has won the Champion Stakes since Sir Ivor in 1968. Come to that, the last three Derby winners did not win another race of any description. But that congested finish at Epsom disguised Sir Percy's achievement in pouncing from so far off a steady pace. His trainer, Marcus Tregoning, has a communicable conviction about the exceptional calibre of a colt whose work on the Lambourn Downs has long been redolent of Nashwan himself. Tregoning's assurance has extended to knowing how far to test his delicacy on firm ground - and more importantly, when not to test it - and stable confidence in his condition, despite this long absence, is little short of flagrant.

He meets older horses for the first time today, and can finally kill off a persistent presumption in the inferiority of the present crop of three-year-olds - something that surely has been done already, through the notable successes against their seniors of George Washington and Dylan Thomas.

Hurricane Run, after all, has acquired feet of clay since this time last year, despite winning that epic battle for the King George in the summer. He has lacked rhythm and, while everything that went right for him in the Arc last year went wrong in Paris 13 days ago, this drop in distance is hardly likely to provoke him into greater fluency. Perhaps his new jockey, Michael Kinane, will be more aggressive than Christophe Soumillon, whose abrupt replacement raises many intriguing questions for the future. But jockeys of every flavour seem intimidated by the distant horizons of Newmarket, and it is difficult to see any real impetus elsewhere in this small field. It may yet prove incumbent on Kinane to make the running himself, but it is easy to picture Sir Percy cutting him down with that uncommon turn of foot.

Hurricane Run has been rather overtaken by Pride this year - as indeed was the whole Arc field bar Rail Link, when she produced that rattling finish at Longchamp. The mare obviously merits respect, having arguably been ridden too complacently when second in this race last year, but she did have a much harder race in the Arc this time (hampered when down the field in 2005) and has had very little time to recover. Sir Percy, being so fresh, once again provides the natural foil in that respect.

As for the rest, horses like Notnowcato and Maraahel are solid, worthy opponents - but far too solid and worthy, surely, to match the star appeal of the Derby winner. It would be disappointing if they could beat him, and SIR PERCY (nap 3.30) looks very solid value at 11-4.

The Dewhurst meanwhile has drawn a field abundantly qualified to volunteer a worthy successor, with several unexposed British colts seeking the exorbitant improvement demanded by the Irish pair, Teofilo and Holy Roman Emperor.

It is perfectly legitimate to fancy the latter to reverse the form of their first meeting, at the Curragh last month, as Teofilo caught Holy Roman Emperor on the hop with a decisive early move. He will doubtless be shadowed more closely this time, Holy Roman Emperor having produced such a lively performance in France last time. But that colt has had a long season and it will be a startling measure of the way Aidan O'Brien is increasingly squeezing improvement from his horses, race by race, if he can summon a new peak on what may be quite tiring ground.

Teofilo's stamina will make it very hard for horses like Strategic Prince, Halicarnassus and Hamoody, who have thrived with an emphasis on speed. He sets a formidable standard, but the bookmakers know that too and it does seem significant that Adagio (4.10) should be immersed in such deep waters by Sir Michael Stoute. After all, the Racing Post Trophy next weekend would seem a more indulgent alternative for this inexperienced colt, who pulled a subsequent winner five lengths clear when in need of his debut over course and distance. Haatef also looks overpriced for another trainer who commands respect.

It is to be hoped that the ground will not have deteriorated too much after 32 horses slog out the Tote-sport Cesarewitch, where Detroit City is favourite to make his hurdling class tell. If anything, he may be a bit too quick for such a brutish grind, and maybe Quizzene (2.50) will find it more to his liking. He was probably ridden too aggressively last time, and is on a fair mark.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Sir Percy (Newmarket 3.30)

NB: Dusky Lord (Stratford 3.35)

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